Work-life balance. Sounds great, feels comforting and seems achievable, right? You wake up in the morning fresh from an 8-hours sleep, jog with your dog, take a shower singing Sinatra, enjoy a homemade breakfast with your family, put on your flawlessly ironed work clothes and head to the office. And only after you have joyfully greeted your colleagues and prepared a hot cup of coffee do you check your emails and get on with your daily tasks.
Of course, for the following 8 hours, your personal life is perfectly under control and your involvement is obviously not needed. Besides, you’ll have all the time in the world to focus on it after 5pm when you’ll turn off your laptop and forget about its existence until the next morning.
Ok, reality check now. Who are you kidding? Your life is neither a pop videoclip nor a Hollywood rom-com. Chances are you’ll check your emails as soon as you open your eyes and you’ll probably start thinking about them even earlier. Also, children cannot pick themselves from the nursing school, dogs cannot walk themselves, teeth cannot go to the dentist appointment by themselves and homemade food cannot be cooked by itself. Let alone the assumption about turning off the laptop at 5pm and forget about its existence until the next morning.
Don’t have work-life balance – at least in the sense of trying to escape from work so you can have a life. Work should be fun – so make work enjoyable and satisfying for everyone – among other reasons because it pays off.
– Don Tapscott
Work-life balance is indeed a tricky term. It was introduced with the best of the intentions to promote a healthy lifestyle in the run of achieving a thriving career while maintaining a fulfilling personal life. However, according to the Expert Forecast on emerging psychosocial risks related to occupational safety and Health conducted by EU-OSHA, poor work-life balance was listed among the 10 top emerging psychosocial risks in the workplace. The study’s results showed a direct link between poor work-life balance and high levels of work-related stress as well as other unpleasant health effects. Workplace trends such as work intensification, precarious employment contracts and irregular working hours combined with a rising number of single parents and women joining the workforce came to doubt the whole realism and feasibility of the work-life balance dream.
So, what went wrong with Work-Life balance?
The choice of words might hold the key to this answer. Balancing between two things creates a perspective of separation. These two things are not allowed to interfere with each other, one needs our full commitment leaving no space for the other and vice versa. But how realistic can this approach be in our fast-paced era where technology keeps us available and connected 24/7? How easy can it be to be a perfectionist without compromising your professional success or your precious family time with only 24 hours a day?
A true balance between work and life comes with knowing that your life activities are integrated not separated.
– Michael Thomas Sunnarborg
Embracing the era of Work-Life blending
The answer might be simple and worth a try. Why not replace balance with blending? Stop resisting to change and become more adaptive to new conditions. In other words, let’s aim for work-place blending rather than work-place balance. The reason is simple: while balance gives a sense of separation, blending gives a sense of flexibility and flexible workplaces are growing faster than ever.
If pursued with good intentions, work-life blending might turn out a more realistic approach. Three simple ways to ensure these good intentions and effectively incorporate work-life blending in the company’s strategy are the following:
- Invest in Prioritizing skills
Actively train the employees to develop strong prioritizing skills. Specifically, show them in practice how to prioritize not work over personal life or the opposite but important aspects of both over less urgent ones. And then teach them how to prioritize their mental and physical health over everything else. Help them become independent and confident in their work and grow a sense of responsibility that will help them develop critical thinking and encourage their decision making and problem-solving skills.
- Create a flexible workplace
Choose quality over quantity. Reward work ethics, effort, results, attitude, willingness to learn and other behaviors connected to high-performing employees and don’t focus on the strict 9-5 working hours or on a mother’s need to work from home in the afternoons because there is nowhere to leave her children. Building trusting and honest relationships with employees is the best strategy to a healthy workplace.
- Raise self-awareness
Change is a process and it always takes time to see the results. Both managers and employees need to be agile in that sense. Be patient and reflect on the progress with honesty and kindness. Rome wasn’t built in a day.